Rebooting the Brain Helps Stop the Ring of Tinnitus in Rats
The hallmark of tinnitus is often a persistent ringing in the ears that is annoying for some, debilitating for others, and currently incurable. Similar to pressing a reset button in the brain, a new therapy has been found to help retrain the part of the brain that interprets sound so that errant neurons reverted back to their original state and the ringing disappeared.
Balintfy: Tinnitus is a symptom some people experience as a result of hearing loss.
Miller: Some sort of acoustic trauma that has progressed to a point that they have a change in their ability to hear.
Balintfy: That's Dr. Roger Miller, Program Director for Hearing and Balance at that National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
Miller: So it might be a roaring, a hissing a buzzing — typically it's a ringing sound – but there’s no external sound that another person could hear.
Balintfy: He says most people understand what tinnitus is, also called tinnitus, and most people have had it for short periods of time. But when experts refer to tinnitus as a problem that usually means it’s an ongoing symptom that doesn’t turn off after a couple hours. Dr. Miller says estimates vary on how many people have tinnitus as a problem.
Miller: We came up with the estimate of 23-million and that's based on the question of has it continued on for five or more minutes.
Balintfy: Dr. Miller adds that there are around 10-million people who are severely bothered by tinnitus.
Miller: And that's the people we really would like to be able to help first, and those are the people that are driven to really extreme forms of behavior trying to eliminate this perception, this really bothersome and debilitating to them.
Balintfy: Tinnitus is currently incurable. Dr. Miller says there are some treatments, including sound-masking therapy that can push the phantom sound into the background.
Miller: And there are some behavior therapies that will help the patients learn how to deal with and find a way of making it less bothersome. And those are really quite good but we’d like to have an actual cure.
Balintfy: Now a new therapy has been discovered which is similar to pressing a reset button in the brain. Dr. Miller explains a study shows how a nerve in the neck, which is not typically associated with auditory processing, plays a role.
Miller: It's a very interesting observation that pairing vagal nerve stimulation with sound stimulation in a very novel and careful way has been able to help these patient, well, in this case the patients were rats.
Balintfy: Researchers were able to eliminate tinnitus in a group of rats by stimulating a nerve in the neck while simultaneously playing a variety of sound tones over an extended period of time. This process was found to help retrain the part of the brain that interprets sound. Dr. Miller adds that even though the approach studied was in rats, treatment for humans may not be far behind.
Miller: Well the nice thing about this approach is takes a type of nerve stimulation that’s already been developed, it’s already been approved for one use, and if we could just slide that over laterally and start using it for tinnitus, it could go forward in a relatively straight forward and fast manner, and that’s what we’re looking for is new ways to help tinnitus patients.
Balintfy: For more information on tinnitus and this study, published in the advance online publication of the journal Nature, visit www.nidcd.nih.gov. This is Joe Balintfy, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Joe Balintfy
Sound Bite: Dr. Roger Miller
Topic: tinnitus, ring, ringing, hear, hearing, hearing loss, ear, ears, brain, nerve, nerve stimulation
Additional Info: Rebooting the Brain Helps Stop the Ring of Tinnitus in Rats